Support of US Indigenous Data Sovereignty and Inclusion of Tribes in the Development of Tribal Data

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TITLE: Support of US Indigenous Data Sovereignty and Inclusion of Tribes in the Development of Tribal Data Governance Principles

WHEREAS, we, the members of the National Congress of American Indians of the United States, invoking the divine blessing of the Creator upon our efforts and purposes, in order to preserve for ourselves and our descendants the inherent sovereign rights of our Indian nations, rights secured under Indian treaties and agreements with the United States, and all other rights and benefits to which we are entitled under the laws and Constitution of the United States and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to enlighten the public toward a better understanding of the Indian people, to preserve Indian cultural values, and otherwise promote the health, safety and welfare of the Indian people, do hereby establish and submit the following resolution; and

WHEREAS, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) was established in 1944 and is the oldest and largest national organization of American Indian and Alaska Native tribal governments; and

WHEREAS, tribal governments are sovereigns and governance of data and research is within the purview of tribal governments; and

WHEREAS, tribes have always been data creators, users, and stewards. Data were and are embedded in Indigenous instructional practices and cultural principles such as community roles and responsibilities; and

WHEREAS, in the era of self-determination and self-governance, tribes have begun implementing oversight protections and increasingly exercising Indigenous data sovereignty—the right of each tribe to govern the collection, ownership, and application of data, information, and knowledge about its peoples, lands, and resources; and

WHEREAS, Indigenous data sovereignty derives from the inherent right of Native nations to govern their peoples, lands, and resources, which is acknowledged in treaties and other legal mechanisms negotiated on a nation-to-nation basis with settler-colonial governments; and

WHEREAS, tribes exercised complete autonomy over their data and knowledge since time immemorial, including traditional ecological knowledge and Native science; however, Indigenous knowledge and data systems have tended to meet the needs of external entities instead of tribes and their citizens. Indigenous data sovereignty is a deliberate repositioning of control of data back to tribes; and

WHEREAS, tribes exercise Indigenous data sovereignty through the interrelated processes of decolonizing data and Indigenizing data governance; and

WHEREAS, data are the building blocks of good governance; however, equal access to these data is not guaranteed. Tribes may not have ready access to the data collected by external agents about their citizens, lands, and resources, which underscores the need for tribal protection, ownership and application of tribal data; and

WHEREAS, the National Congress of American Indians Policy Research Center coordinated a pilot project to build tribal data capacity with four tribes and one Tribal Epidemiology Center: The Kalispel Tribe, The Pueblo of Laguna, The Nez Perce Tribe, The Sault St. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, and The Rocky Mountain Tribal Epidemiology Center; and

WHEREAS, the Native American Research Centers for Health (NARCH) initiative, a joint effort by the National Institutes of Health and the Indian health Service, has provided resources, training and support to tribes since 2001 to establish research protections and governance structures over research conducted with research-intensive partners; and

WHEREAS, Indigenous data sovereignty accords with international declarations and covenants to which the United States has become a signatory, such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP); and

WHEREAS, NCAI has passed a resolution in 2005 that established principles for the review and protection of Tribal Ownership of Health Related Data, #TUL-05-059; and

WHEREAS, the US Indigenous Data Sovereignty Network’s (USIDSN) primary function is to provide research, information, and policy advocacy to safeguard the rights and promote the interests of Indigenous nations and peoples in relation to data.

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) does hereby support the efforts of tribes to exercise Indigenous data sovereignty and governance, the efforts to advocate for and provide research on Indigenous data sovereignty, and supports the inclusion of tribes in the development of any broad principles of tribal data sovereignty and/or governance; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this resolution shall be the policy of NCAI until it is withdrawn or modified by subsequent resolution.


The foregoing resolution was adopted by the General Assembly at the 2018 Midyear Session of the National Congress of American Indians, held at the Marriott Kansas City Downtown, June 3-6, 2018, with a quorum present.

Jefferson Keel, President

Juana Majel Dixon, Recording Secretary